Nebraska astronaut Clayton Anderson confirms retirement

Nebraska native Clayton Anderson during one of his visits home.


Clayton Anderson

Nebraska astronaut Clayton Anderson is jettisoning NASA and taking off to new frontiers.

The six-time spacewalker’s next Earthbound missions will include teaching gigs in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s education college and Iowa State University’s aerospace engineering program.

“All doors are open,” Anderson said Friday during an interview from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

During Anderson’s 30-year NASA career, he spent 167 days in space, including more than 38 hours in spacewalks.

Anderson said retirement from the national space agency wasn’t on his horizon until October, when NASA received authority to seek voluntary early retirements in response to federal budget constraints.

He turns 54 next month.

Anderson said he asked astronaut corps administrators if he would ever fly in space again.

Photo blog: 'It's been an awesome ride'

“Those results were negative,” he said. “So when early retirement presented itself, my wife and I talked and prayed and decided it was a great time to move into my next adventure.”

Anderson and his family — wife Susan, high school junior Cole and sixth-grader Sutton — will remain in Houston for now. He plans to finish a book he’s been writing for several years and to do more public speaking.

Anderson was born in Omaha, graduated from high school in Ashland, Neb. — which he considers his hometown — and earned a bachelor’s degree at Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. He earned a master’s in aerospace engineering from Iowa State in 1983 and started his career with NASA at the Johnson Space Center.

His three decades at NASA were roughly split into segments as an engineer and as an astronaut.

He spent five months aboard the International Space Station in 2007, flying there on the shuttle Atlantis and returning on Discovery. In 2010, he was part of a 15-day resupply mission to the station, helping the Discovery crew deliver 27,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.

In recent years, Anderson has worked as a capsule communicator, helping the space station crew solve problems. He also taught and mentored newer astronauts on how to maneuver outside of their vehicles in space.

Anderson said the narrative of his unfinished book begins when he applied to be an astronaut and includes behind-the-scenes information about his selection, training and flights.

“My goal is to give people an inside look into the life of an astronaut, the ups and downs, highs and lows, and what happens in a person’s life when you agree to fly and live in space for five months,” he said.

The book is about half-written.

Anderson said his UNO plans are fluid but probably will include lectures about his NASA experiences and how educators can better prepare young people for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Earlier this week Anderson was in Hastings to receive the Tom Osborne Leadership Award from Leadership Hastings. Osborne, the former Nebraska athletic director and football coach, is a Hastings College graduate.

“Any time someone says you’re worthy of an award that includes ‘Tom Osborne’ and ‘leadership,’ I’m pretty flattered,” he said.

Word of Anderson’s decision to retire leaked after he tweeted nostalgic farewells to colleagues that coincided with his last shift as a capsule communicator and his final “spacewalk” in the space center’s training pool.

“It steamrolled, and I thought I better come clean,’’ he said.

Anderson said his final spacewalk in the 6.2-million-gallon training pool was more than a selfish splash.

“I wanted to do one final run to say ‘thank you’ the right way to all those who helped me reach the pinnacle and be a space walker,” he said. “It was important to me.”

Anderson said he is sad to see his career at the space agency end.

“It’s been an awesome ride,” he said, “but I truly believe I have more to accomplish in my life.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

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